Ballroom is cheap therapy, and the dancing is terrific

The Lake Effect

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Mad Hot Ballroom is enjoying great word-of-mouth, what filmmakers value even more than rave reviews from critics?#34;or, in some cases, instead of rave reviews from critics. As it happens, this gentle documentary is generating both.

I haven't seen one in a long time, but Ballroom is what I call a "therapy film." It's therapeutic to watch, and if you don't enjoy it, you probably need therapy.

In other words, it's hard to imagine anyone not enjoying this movie. The only hurdle is getting people into the theater. The topic doesn't sound scintillating?#34;New York public school kids taking ballroom dancing lessons and competing for honors?#34;and documentaries always look a little lost amidst the summer sensory-overload spectaculars.

Currently, Mad Hot Ballroom is up against Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Madagascar, and War of the Worlds, all of which are certainly "louder" and "bigger" than Ballroom.

In principle, movie buffs love the "idea" of good independent art films and creative documentaries, but given the actual choice, they tend not to vote with their wallets. This film should be your exception. It is easily as entertaining as any of the above.

Yes, the kids are funny and adorable as they begin learning the ballroom dance steps. That alone would make this film worth watching, but it soon begins to take quantum leaps forward. The kids themselves, as the camera gets to know them?#34;and as they become comfortable with the camera?#34;begin to reveal themselves in all their burgeoning complexity.

Anyone lugging around a negative stereotype of what goes on in large urban public school systems will find their assessments utterly transformed. It's enough to make free-market conservatives believe in public education again?#34;or at least in its potential.

The film provides plenty of opportunity to root for the underdog during the competitive portion, but it also focuses its unblinking eye on the crushed dreams of the losers. Pretty compelling stuff for a story that starts out as a lighthearted observation of the charming chaos that ensues when the world of mannered choreography meets the world of low-income, inner-city youth.

Documentaries have enjoyed a renaissance in the last few years (in fact, The Lake will also run the acclaimed March of the Penguins, narrated by Morgan Freeman, starting Friday). Often they end up being more entertaining than the overwrought fictions produced by a creatively exhausted Hollywood. And they play to an audience that more and more seems to require a "reality" dimension to their entertainment vehicles.

Mad Hot Ballroom certainly qualifies on all of the above. Take advantage of this opportunity for as long as The Lake affords it. And spread the word. It's cheap therapy.

?#34;Ken Trainor

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